May 15 2013 12:00pm

Eat it Up: Food and Magic Combine into Deliciousness

How to Bake a Perfect Life by Barbara O'NealEven though I am neither a chef nor a foodie, books where the hero or heroine can cook great food have always grab my attention. While I do like the nurturing aspect of assembling tantalizing food, that is not the biggest pull. The greatest appeal is the its creative aspect. Most of us can follow directions and cook, but taking basic, raw ingredients and making something tempting and luscious from taste and imagination—well, that's a special talent.

This fascination has no limits, pulling me from romantic suspense books like Angel Falls by Nora Roberts to How to Bake a Perfect Life, a women’s fiction book by Barbara O’Neal, to small town romance books like Home Town Girl and Almost Home, by Mariah Stewart to chick lit stories such as Undomestic Goddess by Sophie Kinsella and Meet Me at the Cupcake Café by Jenny Colgan.

But even more appealing is when the author incorporates symbolism or magic in the story along with the food preparation, bringing two of my favorite plot devices together.

The Crossroads Cafe by Deborah SmithOne of the more emotional books that does that is The Crossroads Café by Deborah Smith. Fantastically gorgeous Cathy Deen is horribly burned after a paparazzi car chase. Losing her looks causes her to lose her husband, her career, and her fickle friends fade away. But her cousin Delta Whittlespoon reaches out with her delectable biscuits, and soon Cathy has moved home to North Carolina to heal and recover, both emotionally and physically. Both Cathy and Delta face some heartbreaking times but through it all they had their sign for something good:

Biscuits. She was baking again! Our symbol for everything good, everything hopeful, everything worth believing in, everything worth fighting for.

So when I saw the blurb for The Biscuit Witch, a new novella by Ms. Smith, I knew I had to read it:

Dear Dr. Firth:

I know you are in your cups at this time, drinking and sleeping under trees, but I have some experience rehabilitating lost souls in that regard, and so I am enclosing a box of my biscuits and a cold-wrapped container of cream gravy for dessert. Please eat and write back.

We need a veterinarian of your gumption here in the Crossroads Cove of Jefferson County.

—Delta Whittlespoon, proprietress of The Crossroads Café

Biscuit witches, Mama called them. She’d heard the term as a girl. She’d inherited that talent. My mother could cast spells on total strangers simply by setting a plate of her biscuits in front of them. –Tal MacBride.

Tal is on the run and finds her way to Crossroads Café and Doug Firth. After knowing him for less than a week, Tal’s six year old daughter, Eve tells her mother:

He makes you smile, she countered. And he likes your biscuits.

But the most convincing statement is when Eve says:

“I hear your heart when you look at him.”

After reading this story, I can’t wait for the next two stories about Tallullah’s brother Gus, The Kitchen Charmer, a special forces soldier:

Somewhere in the stark high mountains of Afghanistan, he sat cross-legged on the ground in front of a grill and a hot pile of coals. On the grill sat a large pan of beautiful, golden cornbread.

“He goes into secluded villages,” I told Lucy, “and he cooks for the people.”

“He speaks Dari well enough to communicate a little plus there’s always a translator with his patrol, but food is the main language.”

And Tal’s sister named Gabby, known as the Pickle Queen, will have her story too. Tal recognizes that Jay Wakefield has all the attributes that appeal to her sister:

Gabby would eat him up with a drizzle of balsamic vinaigrette and side of her secret-recipe hot jalapeno relish. He had all the right spices for her tastes: a jock’s swagger, a gangster’s attitude and a GQ model’s haircut.

Too bad Gabby has a very negative opinion of all the Wakefields.

The Sugar Queen by Sarah AddisonSarah Addison Allen’s books are delightful with their supernatural attributes surrounding food. The Sugar Queen, The Girl Who Chased the Moon, and Garden Spells all charmed me with their usual food premises. In The Sugar Queen, one of the heroines, Chloe, and her boyfriend Jake take their sexual sizzle to a new level:

And this small room couldn’t contain what they had when they were together. The temperature would rise. Ice would melt. Eggs would fry in their cartons.

In The Girl Who Chased the Moon, Julia creates moods of “magic and frenzy” with her cooking:

Crystalline swirls of sugar and flour still lingered in the air like kite tails. And then there was the smell—the smell of hope, the kind of smell that brought people home.

And of course Julia is hoping to do just that.

In Garden Spells, Claire knows how to make dishes using her garden’s herbs and flowers to evoke feelings. Of course when her neighbor next door falls in love with her, she cooks dishes to discourage his interest. She not willing to trust her heart again, because people have a history of leaving her.

Claire’s eyes went to the dish worriedly. It was a chicken and water chestnut casserole made with the oil from snapdragon seeds. Snapdragons were meant to ward off the undue influences of others, hexes and spells and the like, and Tyler needed to free himself of her influence over him.

Lisa Kleypas's book, Dream Lake, one of her Friday Harbor books, easily became my favorite in this series. Chloe soothes Alex’s tortured soul with her offerings of food.

It wasn’t the type of food that usually appealed to him. Baked goods usually reminded him of drywall.

The first bite was light and tender. A crisp dissolve of streusel in a pillowy cake. His tongue encountered the tang of orange zest and the dark liquid zing of blueberries. Each bite brought a new shock of sweetness. He forced himself to get with restraint, to keep from wolfing it down. How long had it been since he really tasted anything?

Are you as enthralled as with books that integrate magic and food? Can you think of others that use this charming concept?


Leigh Davis, Blogger

Subscribe to this conversation (must be logged in):
1. wendyL
Yes, love them! Especially if recipes are included.
Lee Brewer
2. LeeB.
The only problem with reading these kinds of books is being hungry throughout! ;)
Maggie Boyd
3. maggieboyd66
The only problem with this style of book is that there has been a glut of them recently. But I do enjoy them, most escpecially the Sarrah Addison Allen novels.
4. Scarlettleigh
@ Maggieboyd - Really? I have seen numerous cupcake books and I have read a few, but I haven't found a lot of books with magic and cooking. You and I will have to compare lists.
5. Scarlettleigh
@LeeB. I didn't get hungry reading about Snapdragon oil (grin)
6. Scarlettleigh
@wendyL I can't say that I really read the recipes. I know that I am not going to cook them (grin). I have an aunt that loves to read ---Cookbooks. She doesn't really read fiction but give her a cookbook, and she will read it front to back.
7. Teddy
If we're talking food and magic, then it's impossible to forget
Joanne Harris' Chocolat series. Or how about the classic Like Water for Chocolate (Laura Esquivel)?

Other gastronomic candidates:
The Last Chinese Chef by Nicole Mones
The Mistress of Spices by Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni
The School of Essential Ingredients by Erica Bauermeister
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